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White student, 'the most hated student ... at Howard Law,' sues historically black college for $2 million for racial discrimination

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Photo by Brian Stukes/Getty Images

A white male who is a former student at Howard University School of Law has sued the historically black institution, claiming he suffered racial discrimination and a "hostile education environment" before he was expelled in 2022.

Michael Newman, who attended HUSL from 2020 until 2022, claimed in a new lawsuit filed on February 16 that he suffered "pain, suffering, emotional anguish and damage to his reputation" as a result of repeated racial discrimination from at least one professor and several students at the school.

Newman enrolled in the private school in the fall of 2020 after accepting a scholarship the previous December. The scholarship was granted based on Newman's LSAT score and undergraduate GPA, the lawsuit contended.

However, according to the lawsuit, Newman soon began to experience significant racial discrimination for sharing personal views in class, held virtually due to COVID lockdowns. In one particular instance, Newman disagreed with a pro-Biden speaker at a symposium held in October 2020, stating in a professor's online forum, "Where I part with the black community is where they believe government solves problems; I only see it causing problems." Newman later added that he wondered whether the black community's allegiance to "the same party every election" caused both Republican and Democratic politicians to ignore "the needs of black communities."

By January 2021, Newman learned that a fellow HUSL student had unearthed a tweet Newman had issued seven months before from a personal account. The tweet included an image of a badly beaten slave with the caption, "But we don't know what he did before the picture was taken." Though Newman later explained to his colleague that the message was intended to demonstrate the problems with presuming that black suspects who become injured or die while in police custody must have done something to deserve their fate, the lawsuit indicated that the student who retweeted the image refused to engage in dialogue with Newman and that responses to the tweet made repeated references to Newman's "race, gender, sexual preference, age, and personal appearance."

Newman alleged in the lawsuit that such hostility from other students soon became the norm at Howard. He claimed that some students regularly hurled racial slurs such as "mayo king" and "White Panther" at him. When he attempted to address the racial discrimination with global head of diversity recruiting Reggie McGahee, McGahee told Newman over the phone that he had become "the most hated student" he had ever seen "in his tenure at Howard Law."

Prompted by McGahee, Newman attempted to reconcile himself to his classmates through four letters he wrote to explain himself. However, despite their apologetic and conciliatory tone, the letters only seemed to fuel animosity toward him, the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit also claimed that School of Law Dean Danielle Holley secretly recorded a conversation she had with Newman and McGahee. During their conversation, Holley accused Newman of racial harassment against black students; claimed that, as a private institution, Howard did not have to extend First Amendment rights to its students; and suggested that Newman transfer to another law school.

At one point, Holley also held a virtual town hall meeting of Howard Law students to denounce Newman's supposed racist actions, the lawsuit claimed. During the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, Holley allegedly cut off Newman's chat function and his microphone so that he could not respond to accusations against him.

The lawsuit indicated that the "hostile education environment" caused Newman's grades to suffer, which in turn put his scholarship in jeopardy. After a series of disciplinary hearings and appeals, Newman was ultimately expelled by Howard in September 2022. He is now suing the school for $2 million "for pain, suffering, emotional anguish, and damage to his reputation."

Frank Tramble, vice president and chief communications officer for Howard University, stated that the school "is prepared to vigorously defend itself in this lawsuit as the claims provide a one-sided and self-serving narrative of the events leading to the end of the student's enrollment at the university."

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